Tamils - a Trans State Nation..

"To us all towns are one, all men our kin.
Life's good comes not from others' gift, nor ill
Man's pains and pains' relief are from within.
Thus have we seen in visions of the wise !."
Tamil Poem in Purananuru, circa 500 B.C 

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Search for Peace:
Tamils in New Zealand

An International Conference organised by New Zealand Tamils for all New Zealanders, Memorial Theatre Victoria University of Wellington, New Zealand - 13 July 1996

Conference Statement

Aim of the Conference

The overall aim of the conference was to inform the New Zealand public, the media and the politicians who Tamils really are. Tamils in New Zealand as well as those in other parts of the world feel that the aspirations and character of the Tamil people are not properly understood. Suppression of news and misinformation about the ethnic civil war in Sri Lanka have led to adverse and inaccurate portrayals of the Tamil people by most media.

Background about Tamils

There were 3.5 million Tamils in Sri Lanka at the last census in 1981, which is about the current New Zealand population and there are nearly 50 million Tamils in South India, which exceeds the entire population of Great Britain. Best estimates of the Tamil population in New Zealand is 3,000-3,500, with over 65% living in the Auckland and Wellington regions.

The early political history of the Tamil people in South India and Sri Lanka was characterised by Tamil kingdoms, until the advent of European colonisation in the 16th century. Since the end of the British rule in 1948, the oppression and discrimination of the Tamils in Sri Lanka has led to their struggle for self determination and independence.

In particular, the civil war against the Tamil minorities has gone on for over 13 years and has reached genocidal proportions. The conference committee noted the following facts which can be established without any reservations:

The Tamil political movement started in earnest in the 1950s and functioned democratically through parliament and legal channels. This was in response to many discriminatory legislations imposed by consecutive Sri Lankan governments in citizenship, language, lands alienation, jobs and education. This form of governance and Tamil politics continued from 1950 until 1983.

During this period of political participation by the Tamils, Sinhala mob violence on a large scale was unleashed on the Tamils, notably in 1956, 1958, 1972, 1977 and 1983 killing thousands of innocent Tamils living outside their traditional homelands. This period is noted for several aborted agreements arrived after protracted discussions. The successive Sri Lankan governments first concluded these agreements with Tamil political parties and later abandoned owing to pressures from radical and religious nationalists, within the Sinhala majority.

The beginning of the Tamil armed struggle can be traced to 1974. This was initially on an isolated and sporadic scale and was subsequent to the police attack on a large peaceful public gathering for the very first International Tamil Research Conference resulting in the loss of 9 civilian lives. The armed movement operating on a low key with very small number of adherents gained momentum since 1983.

The recent indiscriminate military action by government forces was an unreported war, where foreign media and NGOs were kept out of the war zone by the government. This war has caused the displacement of well over 300,000 Tamil people in their own homelands who are living under inhumane conditions, with no proper shelter, medication or food. The Government of Sri Lanka has put the death toll from the civil war in Sri Lanka since 1984 at 50,000. The casualty figures on the civilian non combatant population, including women and young children, is well over this conservative estimate.

World Conflicts and Minority Sufferings

Since World War II, the ethnic/ religious armed conflicts taking place around the world have increased in numbers and in severity and are happening over protracted periods. Perpetuation of the violence is made possible by remoteness of locations, and wars are localised and atrocities go unreported. The repeating pattern of such conflicts is characterised by the smaller ethnic groups being the targets of larger groups which happen to dominate the governments.

The natural advantages of the governments in power to continue with the wars is further aided by international media indifference or inaccessibility and international political expediency which enjoy trade and political concessions with the offending governments. The minorities are driven to take up arms as a last resort against government direct actions and complicity in violence.

The weight of this mindless suffering on humanity is not confined to these faceless & voice less people, for this to be forgotten. This suffering is within human consciousness and will perpetuate itself in ways that are not very obvious and will continue to manifest disorder and violence.

The extent of suffering the people of Yalppanam (Jaffna) have undergone classifies them as a suppressed people in the sense of the Geneva Convention on Human Rights. Suppressed people have a right of self determination.

The Government of Sri Lanka has increased the suffering of this people by the military conquest of Yalppanam in December 1995 and by using this conquest to establish political hegemony in Yalppanam and by diluting the devolution package that alienates the Tamils radically.

Conference Appeal

Given the background to the plight of the Tamils in Sri Lanka, espoused by the well thought out papers presented by five Scholars at this Conference, this Committee summarises the appeal to the public, the media and the government of New Zealand and of other well meaning countries as follows:-

The sufferings of the civilian population brought about by the economic embargo of the traditional Tamil areas more than 5 years ago should be lifted immediately to bring back some normalcy' to these regions.

International humanitarian workers and observers including international media must be admitted to all areas of the country and the application of the humanitarian law and human rights restored in the whole country.

The two parties to the conflict should be urged to undertake immediately negotiations in an environment where parity of status of negotiators can be ensured.

A total bilateral cessation of hostilities must be demanded as a matter of urgency.

A just and durable settlement to the ethnic conflict in Sri Lanka recognising the right of self determination of the Tamils can be achieved only through the intervention of members of the international community who have the understanding of the factors responsible for the conflict and are acceptable to both parties.

The conference committee also urges that all New Zealand Tamil Societies to open links between Tamils and all sections of the New Zealand Society at large, including Maori, Pakeha and other ethnic groups, and to support academic research to find ways and means of resolving the conflict.

Conference Statement Sub-Committee: Professor Peter Schalk, Professor Margaret Trawick, Dr Jeff Sluka, Dr V Nithiyanandam, Dr Chinniah Ilanko and Dr Ram Sri Ramaratnam

Statement Co-ordinators : Mr Paul Rajeswaran, Mr C Kumara Parathy



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